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All change: everyone is responsible for fixing retail

Chris Field
Chris Field

So many people seem to delight in pointing out just how much retail is changing and how all retailers need to catch up fast if they’re going to survive. This all makes terribly interesting reading – online and in the press, but it isn’t really helpful to most retailers who already know this. Many of the current roles in retail are not designed for what’s coming, so here’s a few suggestions.

The CEO needs to step up. There is no question that they spend far too much of their time with shareholders and the business community just trying to convince everyone that everything is fine; and I appreciate that this is an important part of their role, but who is showing leadership in these businesses at the moment as their face so much change. The CEO needs to show direction and be seen to be doing – not merely saying.

The CIO needs to revisit their so-called schedule, the list of priorities that the poor vendor has to regard as a tablet of stone and stop rejecting new ideas simply because they are not already calendared for implementation. Now I appreciate that this means they’re going to have to make some very tough decisions and disappoint a lot of people by telling them that their current project is going to get canned, but there are just too many important projects that are simply not getting done.

Too much money is being invested in e-commerce, in the belief that this is what is driving the business. Whilst this is still true for several businesses, the truth is that some more fundamental things need to get changed that are going to drive both online and off-line, namely the supply chain. Retailers still need single view of customers, stock, and order, and to be able to execute on that well in every channel. The supply chain is still being kept in the dark when it comes to sharing data.

The chief digital officer and the chief merchant need to start talking to each other. I accept that they are effectively at loggerheads at the moment given that they have different priorities and different ways of thinking as to how things are going to get fixed, but in truth power really needs to be ceded to the chief merchant, the person that has perfect overview of the most important thing for any retailer, which is the product. Obviously, they are going to need access to all the right data to enable them to make the right decisions, and I suspect they don’t yet have access to enough data or of the right type.

HR needs to be given more budget and more control over the way staff are deployed in the store. Whilst this is currently within the remit of the operations director, it is an HR person who is probably best placed to consider how to shape the kinds of roles that the employee of the future really wants, and which will motivate them to give perfect customer service.

And the retailer needs to put someone currently responsible for corporate and social responsibility in front of the customers, the shareholders and the media. Sustainability is now becoming a critical factor for any retail business in terms of its reputation, therefore its future growth and it needs to be fronted by a real human being.

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